Veterinary Work+Life Balance
Making The Myth A Reality
When we say balance we aren’t talking about holding a puppy in one arm, a medical chart in the other and a capped syringe between your teeth…we’re talking about finding a Work+Life Balance that allows you to thrive in every aspect of your life.
People who are drawn to being Veterinarians and pet care professionals have an innate desire to help others…pet parents as well as their pets. You aspire to make life better for so many by providing a great quality of life for our pets. While your motivation is noble, and to be admired, it also sets you up for Work+Life Balance issues.
You know that you are the one really responsible for establishing your own Work+Life Balance that allows you to thrive, but many of us don’t notice that things are out of kilter until it is nearly too late. So, it’s time for an Intervention. Here are 7 practical tips from Veterinarians, Veterinary Nurses, Veterinary Technicians and Hospital Managers from our global Community. We approached them for their advice and their practical, tactical tips will get you started on re-establishing your own Work+Life Balance…
Work+Life+Play Equation: the ratio of time you spend doing the job you love interleaved with the time it takes to get around and do the things we all have to do compared with the amount of time you spend doing other things you also love. The magic number is 1:1:1 – an hour of doing things you love to do for every hour you love to work and an hour for the time in between to do day to day “stuff”. Everyone should make this calculation at least once a month just to see how close you can get.
You already know that by dedicating your life to the well-being of pets, then working 9-5 is not very realistic. It’s not uncommon for Veterinary professionals to put in long 10-12 hour days on a regular basis. There is always one more thing to do, whether that means completing a patient record on a procedure you did first thing in the morning, or calling a client to check on a patient you saw days earlier or one last quality check as you prep for surgery. Juggling all these varied tasks, all equally important in their own way, can eat away at the morale and the overall mental health of Veterinarians and Veterinary support team members alike.
After work, many Vets or Vet Nurses will field calls, texts, emails and social media questions about their friends and family’s pet’s health too. It’s not uncommon for a Vet to get a call from a friend in the middle of the night seeking advice. Each time a question is asked our dedicated Vet friends provide helpful guidance, regardless of the impact these requests may have. Sound familiar?
It’s okay to work late, once in a while. And it’s okay to help friends and family with their pet-related questions. What’s not okay, is doing those things ALL the time. Establish how late you want to stay at work, and keep that schedule. No more fourteen-hour shifts, no more “I just need to finish one more thing before I go.” In reality, much of the work you are doing can wait another day. If you are too inundated with clients, speak to your Practice Manager or Hospital Owner about adjusting schedules. Discuss with them how cutting back on patient visits by one or two will be better for the practice in the long run as Vets will be better rested and likely to be more productive. Let your friends know that you are not free for advice on Fridays through Sunday night, barring a real emergency.
Many Veterinarians will say they don’t mind and are happy to help. And it’s true, they probably don’t mind and are happy to help. But as we all know the more you chip away at something, the quicker it will fall. As a pet care professional, you love what you do, and you should. The work you complete is important. It provides comfort to animals and humans alike. But that doesn’t mean you should stop caring for yourself. It may be hard to establish boundaries, but in the long run, you’ll be glad you did.
Make use of your smart phone’s smarts
Take a 30-minute crash course from your niece or watch a YouTube video on how to control and manage your smartphone notifications. Set your self a work “window” and then program your phone to switch off all email and text notifications outside that window, and also only allow texts and social media contacts from a small circle of close friends (who don’t have a pet). One of the easy ways to help you to start establishing the boundaries mentioned earlier is to use your phone’s alarm. Set an alarm for 30 minutes before, and after, your shift is due to finish. When the first goes off, start planning your exit and when the second one goes off, if you are still at work, Go Home…and if you are already on your way home, well done, and take a moment to savour your first steps towards genuine Work+Life Balance.
Besides being a Veterinary professional, what else do you love to do? Find time to read a little each day, paint, draw, hike, watch a movie – “me time” might sound selfish initially but will reward you with peace of mind in the longer term. Connect with the things that fill your soul for a just a little each day and you’ll see in no time, that you feel more balanced and relaxed. Think about learning to meditate – it really does help. And here too, your beastly life-interrupting phone can actually help with apps for planning for “me time” and for meditation.
Have a good laugh
Bad days at the clinic happen. You can cut back the stress and pain of those days with a good laugh. Find a comedy podcast to play in the treatment room. Find a book of jokes and randomly recite one to the team. Go see a stand-up comedian. And yes, even Dad or Mom jokes work.
Take your lunch outside
Every day thousands of Veterinarians, Nurses and Technicians chomp down their sandwiches and salads in-between seeing patients, whilst swapping out bandages, or before prepping for surgery. You scarf your food down without taking a breath to enjoy what you are doing. Stop that. You need to take a break; lunch is a perfect conduit for that. You need to take thirty minutes or an hour, and adding in a fifteen-minute walk around the block could be exactly what you need to get your head back in the game. Plus, the fresh air is a great mood lifter.
Book a holiday
Believe it or not, you are not irreplaceable and your hospital will survive without your being there for a week or three, but it will have less chance of surviving if you end up leaving through exhaustion, stress or even self-harm…we’ve all heard the statistics. Choose a location you have always dreamed about and find a friend or life partner to travel with, book it and prepay it 100% with no cancellation policy so that you just have to go. By taking a travel buddy and parting with your money in advance it will make it really, really hard to cancel.
Learn to say No
Having highlighted some Work+Life Balance tips and techniques earlier, we left the most important one to the end. You must learn to say No. And it’s really hard for Veterinary professionals who by your very nature, always want to help and never like to disappoint. Regrettably, that also puts you in a position that others take advantage of or exposes you to fatigue and over-work. If you’re invited to your second cousin’s 30th birthday party that is after 4 long-day shifts it is OK to say no, same as when that college roommate asks for your help in studying for their advanced surgery qualification or those more and more frequent last-minute calls to pick up an extra shift. That doesn’t mean that you have to say no always – but start with once a week and work up to a level you are happy with. No?
Now is the time for you to become a master of your Veterinary Work+Life Balance. It won’t be easy. And you’ll have many setbacks. But in the end, it’s critical that you set boundaries to keep you sane and working in the industry you are so passionate about.
The industry needs you, not only to provide great veterinary care but also to nurture and mentor the next generation of Vets, Vet Nurses and Practice Managers. But to retain your sanity and your well-being, and to ensure you stay in the industry doing the work you love, it’s time for some self-applied tough love…and to make time to love yourself by finding some all-too-elusive Work+Life Balance.
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